Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Episode 162: Pura Vida - A Visit to Costa Rica Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 162: Pura Vida - A Visit to Costa Rica

Record Date: July 31, 2022

Air Date: August 3, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week, we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today. This week we are going to look at a modern phrase in another language from another country. 

Opening Hook

Dan and I recently traveled to Costa Rica. One thing that stood out while researching before we left and held true when we were there in person is the unofficial motto of the country … Pura Vida. It translates as “Pure Life” and today, we’ll delve into the meaning of this magical phrase beyond its direct translation. 


Language is often representative of the culture of a people. And I think Pura Vida is a perfect example of this idea. Just like the people of Costa Rica, the phrase Pura Vida is more complex and multi-faceted than the meaning of the words or even than the message they sometimes convey. Some other terms or phrases may come up during the episode and we’ll explain those as they come up as well.  

As we traveled throughout Costa Rica, we heard Pura Vida used as a greeting and a farewell… during celebrations and while clinking glasses together… mid-conversation on the phone and sometimes as acknowledgement or to say yes, good, you’re welcome, thank you, have a great day, that’s great, Pura Vida! ... And this isn’t merely a phrase - it’s a way of life! 

For this episode, I will be sharing highlights and the overall experience we had during our trip. There are always outliers, but those aren’t really helpful here, so I’m just leaving them out. Of course, we’ll also have a few bits of info from resources about Costa Rica.

As I shared in the intro, the direct translation for Pura Vida is Pure Life. In Costa Rica, Pura Vida is a way of life. It means the simple life, the passionate life, and more. Because it’s more than a definition, we’re going to take a little bit more of our episode time to learn how this motto was adopted and what Pura Vida means to Ticos. 

Before we do that… you might be thinking, “Ticos? What are Ticos?”

A good explanation is provided in the post, “What is ‘Tico’? What Does Tico Mean Exactly?” from the page


Costa Ricans are usually called ticos by themselves as well as by people of other Spanish-speaking countries. “Tico” and “tica” (male and female) are colloquial terms that Costa Ricans gave themselves, due to their linguistic tendency to add the diminutive “tico” to the end of words. 

End Quote

The article goes on to share a story of the term’s origin. 


“About a century ago, many Costa Ricans made the linguistic mistake of forming the diminutive by adding an “-ico” to the end of words. And so, poquito (pronounced like po-qui-toe), the Spanish diminutive of the word poco; meaning little or few, became poquiTICO when spoken by a Costa Rican. Because of their friendly and warm-hearted manner, the people of Costa Rica commonly used the diminutive in their everyday speech patterns and thus earned the nickname “ticos” from outsiders.”

End quote 

Ticos are unapologetically passionate. When they are happy, they are unabashed. Celebrations are shared with others around and exist in simplicity - everyone is just happy. Happy for themselves or for those celebrating. 

Pura Vida was exemplified in one of the first experiences we had after arriving in San Jose - the capital of Costa Rica. We settled into our hotel and were invited to enjoy a selection of free drinks and appetizers at the bar during happy hour. Naturally, we found a spot at the bar and then watched as hotel staff climbed ladders to hang a variety of country flags from the rafters and bring party items and such into the space. They were setting up for the big game - an intercontinental futbol play-off. This is futbol that is called soccer by many in the U.S. 


We weren’t really sure what was going on when we got to the bar with all the decor and the crowd filtering in. Do they do this for every football game? It turned out, this was the final qualifying game for the 2022 World Cup, Costa Rica vs New Zealand, meaning whoever won would play in the World Cup starting in November 2022 and the loser would go home for the next 4 years. Even though it was a hotel bar, the place was a mix of locals, traveling business folks, and tourists. There were at least 6 different languages being spoken in the place and a wide range of skin colors. Loads of differences in the room.

When Costa Rica scored 3 minutes in, everything that was different about us melted away. We were all Ticos. All with a joint mission: Send all the positive energy on to Qatar to bring about a Costa Rican win. Every shot on goal brought us closer together. The mood sank when New Zealand got one in the net and we erupted in celebration when it was overturned due to a foul. When New Zealand made their final push in stoppage time, the place was eerily silent. People who had never seen each other before had their arms interlocked in solidarity. When the whistle blew to propel Costa Rica into the final spot for the World Cup, the room exploded. Hugs and tears filled the room. 

Now this isn’t just a Costa Rica thing. I’ve heard similar experiences of people coming together related to national sporting events before, but I think this is the first time I’ve experienced one as an adult. And the partying for the next few hours was truly wild. That was one of our first experiences in Costa Rica. The thing that surprised me the most, though, was this style of being in the moment, enjoying what is happening, and enjoying it with the people around you in the moment - that was consistent no matter where we went and no matter what we did. And I think it owes a little something to the National mindset of Pura Vida.


We watched the bartenders join the crowd in the final moments of the match. And everyone was so wrapped up in the excitement that we didn’t notice or care that we hadn’t gotten refills for a bit. It was an incredible moment to be present for. 

Some of this is the nature of such a big event. But as we found out over the next couple of weeks, Ticos carried a similar attitude regarding all aspects of their lives.

One gentleman told us that Pura Vida is his approach to life and that of his wife and children as well. They are full of life. In everything they do, they keep in mind that life is a gift to be cherished and enjoyed to the greatest extent. They love deeply, work hard, play hard, and relax fully. They consider every opportunity presented to them and take chances even if they’re scared. Whether this is a job offer, making new friends, or being invited to a painting class. Take chances, live life, and have fun! 

And this is Pura Vida - a focus on what’s important in life and letting the rest go. 

In the article Pura Vida - The True Meaning of Pura Vida on, the following was shared. 


“Essentially, the meaning of Pura Vida is Pure Life or simple life. This has a lot to do with the culture of Costa Rica and the attitude of the Ticos. The Costa Rican people tend to be much more relaxed and worry free. There really is no need to worry when you are in paradise. Pura Vida is both a greeting and a goodbye, an answer to the question, “How are you?” and an expression uttered—perhaps shouted—at joyous occasions.”

End Quote

The article continues, answering the question, “Why do they use it?” 


“With so many nationalities, it’s a bit difficult to generalize about the “Costa Rican people” and what makes them so happy. But one thing that seems to unite the people of Costa Rica is the notion of “Pura Vida”. For Costa Ricans, Pura Vida means enjoying life no matter what your circumstances; it’s a simple appreciation of life and the realization that life is what you make of it.”

End quote 

We have more to share but first we want to say thank you to our sponsors. 

An example of a Pura Vida decal depicting a sloth, available on Etsy

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Origin and Tico Time

Where did Pura Vida come from? Well, one theory was shared in the post Pura Vida! Costa Rica Lifestyle on


Although many people love to use the phrase, not many know where the term actually originated. The most common explanation comes from a Mexican movie called ¡Pura vida! that came to Costa Rica 1956 (directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares).  In the movie, ‘pura vida’ is the saying used by the main character who remains optimistic, despite unfortunate circumstances that continue to surround him.  Although it took a little while to catch on, the phrase pura vida was being used nationwide by 1970. Today, it is an inherent part of the culture.

Although many people use the saying ‘pura vida’, until you’ve been to Costa Rica, you will not truly know what pura vida feels like. It’s an emotion, it’s an attitude, it’s happiness, and it’s a way of life.  Once you’ve visited, you will understand the true meaning of pura vida.

End quote 

This is the most common origin story for Costa Rica’s unofficial motto. However, it seems that how it got started is far less important to Ticos than the adoption of Pura Vida as their way of life.

Tico Time

We quickly learned that this no-stress, chill approach to things includes pretty much everything. On our first morning waking up in Costa Rica, we had a tour scheduled to leave the hotel at 6:15am. Despite being early to the pick-up spot, we were a little worried we’d missed it somehow. After a phone call and chat with hotel staff, we found out there was a little mix-up with the time another guest had been given. The driver just waited for them at their hotel and picked us up after. We didn’t leave the hotel for maybe another hour. Veteran travelers to Costa Rica and many Ticos, shared that this concept is known as Tico-Time. Everyone and everything runs on Tico-Time. We were there to have fun, so we all just let it go and it was an amazing day. 

That was the longest wait we had on anything. 

For clarity, this isn’t laziness or lack of concern for others. Rather, it is a choice to not worry about things that are out of one’s control or that are ultimately just… not that big of a deal. Tasks do get done. People get their food and drinks… it might not be lickity-split, but it will be there and it will probably be absolutely delicious. I never felt ignored, neglected, or disrespected. It was actually a lovely change of pace. Tico Time is a key part of the Pura Vida existence. There is very little reason to let stress or worry into our daily lives. If there is a need for immediate attention… very well - it gets taken care of. Otherwise, just enjoy the moment, the company, the food, being alive, and relax. 

Gallo Pinto

Speaking of food, the most common breakfast you’ll find in most of Costa Rica is Gallo Pinto. It’s essentially Rice and Beans… but with other things added in. Traditionally, folks will take the leftover rice and beans from the night before, grill some onions and peppers, maybe toss in some fish or chicken or whatever else is around and sounds good. Add it all together and bam! Next, cook some eggs to go alongside and don’t forget the Patacones - fried plantains! We had this with fresh fruit for many meals and never tired of it! 


For lunch, the same base would be applied to the dish known as Casado. This dish is rice and beans with a protein like fish, chicken, or beef, then add plantains and a salad. Casado, in Spanish, means married. This may come from a popular theory that married men would eat this dish - wrapped in a banana leaf - every day for lunch in the fields. This origin theory has its detractors, too, but no matter the true origin I never had bad casado. And I probably ate it 10 times during the two weeks there. 


Pura Vida carries over to the land as well. Ticos are proud of their country - both its beauty and its diverse ecosystem. They are also proud of their way of life. And they want to keep things this way and continue to improve. 

In Case Studies in Environmental Science - Understanding Multiple Views, this is discussed in the study, Costa Rica's Tropical Forests 


In the 1960s Costa Rica's government realized that it their land use practices were not sustainable. The demand for farm land, in particular cattle ranching, was causing large amounts of deforesting.

This concern lead to political actions including a national congress on natural resources. This congress identified a plan for preserving the remaining tropical forests. In the 1980's a cabinet level position for natural resources was created.

In the late 1980s, Costa Rica established a National Conservation Strategy for Sustainable Development. This strategy made decisions based on combined information about the economy, demography, industrialization, agriculture and energy. This strategy allowed them to avoid narrow special interests. This sophisticated decision making process relied on the citizen's generally high level of education including a 93% literacy rate.

End quote 

As of 2021, according to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), Costa Rica has protected approximately 28% of its land in national parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges. And some areas of this protected land are so restricted that only a few naturalists or biologists are allowed access. 

Dan and I visited some of the national parks on our trip including two of the more popular areas - Arenal National Park- home of the active Arenal volcano and Manuel Antonio National Park - a coastal park with both marine islands and terrestrial areas. 

These were as beautiful as can be imagined. 

Wrap Up

I’ve been living my life on Tico-Time - I think since I was born. This is likely due mainly to a few struggles with ADHD. I know it matters to others and make an effort to be more attentive to time when there are significant events, hard deadlines, or appointments. But I still can’t quite tell how much time has passed. That being said, the things that appeal to me about Tico Time and Pura Vida are not related to time-management. It is the calm, the simplicity of not stressing. Let the good be good. And let the rest be what it is without adding negatively to our lives unnecessarily. I’ve made it a point to embrace Pura Vida. For the sake of my health and my sanity… if something starts to irk me or worry me… I stop - take a breath - reassess. Is this truly worth giving all this time and emotion to? Usually the answer is no and I can let it go and go back to being in a positive, chill space. What a beautiful way to exist!



That’s about all we have for today. We’d love to hear from you about any phrases you’ve learned while traveling. You can let us know on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod or comment on our website


Before we end this thing, let’s have poll time! 

We recently asked our Patrons, 

“Which social media/social networking sites do you use?”

Anything used in the last six months counts. It can be personal or professional. We also asked them to let us know their absolute favorite in the comments!

The most common sites were: 

  • Reddit

  • Twitter

  • Youtube

  • Facebook

  • Instagram

  • LinkedIn

Those were followed up by the popular platforms TikTok and Pinterest, closely tailed by Snapchat. 

There were a few in the list that are popular worldwide, just not amongst those who responded to our poll including platforms like: 

  • Telegram

  • Flickr

  • Tumblr

  • Weixin/WeChat

  • MySpace

  • WhatsApp


I enjoyed one of the comments on this one. Jan shared, 

“Looking at the 9 I selected... Maybe I need to cut back. Most of my friends and family are on Facebook so I'd pick that as my favorite because it's easy to get in touch with people. In truth probably YouTube is my favorite because there's so much to watch on there. I can learn how to fix a toilet or make an ancient Roman feast.”


My favorite is Reddit. I have a carefully curated home page and see content from subreddits that I care about and that make me happy or make me think. And if I want to doomscroll, I can switch to view all subreddits or the popular posts. It's the best of all worlds.  I'm also pretty active on LinkedIn for professional stuff. I used to be super active on Twitter, but I’ve cut back on that site over the past 3 years as it felt more and more like an anger generating machine. I’ve tried very hard to keep my subreddits curated to avoid that same fate on Reddit.


I think YouTube is my fave just in general. I love learning and music and nerdy stuff... and those things can all be found in abundance there.

Following that, TikTok is like people watching x1000... and I love it. It's got a pretty decent algorithm so I don't get bogged down with content that isn't my jam. People are sharing lessons, support, fun stories… they’re singing and teaching languages. I’ve even taken live ballet classes and learned some of the tips for traveling in Costa Rica. Like any of the platforms, I think it’s all in how you use it and how much time you spend there.


As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part in our polls, so head over to to join now!



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

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